- Tommy Lawlor explains the challenges that championship teams in the past have not been able to overcome when trying to follow up that success.
Thirty years ago, I was sitting on the couch watching television as a recent high school graduate. The phone rang. It was my friend Mark from down the street.
"Flip it to MTV," he said. "I'll be at your house in a minute."
Boom. He hung up and it seemed like seconds later Mark was walking through the door. He wanted me to see a video by this new band. Mark explained the group was called Guns N' Roses and had a song called Sweet Child O' Mine. We watched the video and I thought the group was interesting. It piqued my curiosity.
By August 1988, I was obsessed with Guns N' Roses. They were the hottest band on the planet. MTV loved them because they were cool. Girls found them sexy. I just loved the music. The music world took notice of them and plenty of other bands were wondering how they could copy the GNR look or sound to help their cause. They were an international obsession.
I thought GNR would put out a slew of great albums and change music history, like their heroes the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
They had great musical chemistry, but volatile personalities and serious issues drove the band apart. Less than a decade later, each of the members had gone their separate ways.
We've seen this in sports as well. Remember the 1985 Bears. They had one of the youngest rosters in the NFL that season. They had 13 starters aged 26 or younger. Only three guys were older than 30. The Bears had one of the greatest players of all time in Walter Payton, a star quarterback in Jim McMahon, and arguably the stoutest defense in the history of football. That group of players never got back to the Super Bowl. They were 2-5 in the playoffs from 1986-92.
There were all kinds of problems with chemistry and leadership that hurt that team. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and head coach Mike Ditka hated each other and that forced players to choose sides. Even when Ryan left, defensive players weren't exactly thrilled with Ditka. McMahon was more interested in being a rebel than a leader. He and Ditka clashed on many things.
The strike of 1987 hurt the team in a big way. Ditka was not happy with his players for walking out. The way he embraced their replacements left a permanent bad taste with the real Bears players. They were not pleased with him when they returned.
Sustaining greatness is incredibly hard.
The Eagles were a great team in 2017. I honestly believe this team has a chance to sustain that because they chemistry in the organization is so strong - on and off the field. That all starts with Doug Pederson and his leadership.
Ditka ruled with an iron fist. He screamed at players and coaches. He was a fiery player and that continued when he became a coach. That worked for a couple of years, but constant altercations wear people down.
Compare that to Pederson, also a former player. Pederson was a quarterback and not remotely a fiery guy. He was friendly and cerebral. When Brett Favre came off the field, Pederson was there to offer support. He would give advice or listen to Favre, depending on the situation. As Jeffrey Lurie would say, Pederson had emotional intelligence.
Pederson coaches the same way. He doesn't rant and rave when something goes wrong. He tries to figure out how to fix the problem. Sure, there are times when he can raise his voice and let you know he's not happy. That's not his default setting, as it was with Ditka.
I think you can argue that Pederson's best trait is his humility. He regularly gives credit to his players and assistant coaches. When things go wrong, he takes the blame. That is straight out of the Andy Reid playbook (who got it from Bill Walsh).
Pederson takes it to another level. He's gone so far as to give Chip Kelly and Sam Bradford credit for successful plays. That doesn't benefit Pederson at all. He's just an honest, humble guy. How many coaches do you know who give credit to a former player and the previous head coach like that?
That attitude sets the tone for the organization. You don't see fighting amongst the players for touches. You don't see offensive players and defensive players arguing about who should get more credit for a win. All for one and one for all.
The players also provide outstanding leadership. Carson Wentz is entering only his third season, but he's the face of the franchise and acts like it. There are homegrown leaders like Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, and Fletcher Cox.
The Eagles have also made some great veteran additions over the years. Jason Peters, Malcolm Jenkins, and Chris Long began their careers elsewhere, but you wouldn't know that. They seem like lifelong Eagles. It is hard to quantify the impact these players have had on the field and in the locker room.
Peters never won a playoff game in his career before last season. The Eagles were 6-1 when he went down with a knee injury. It would have been easy for Peters to wallow in self-pity. If you remember, Peters was coaching up Halapoulivaati Vaitai as he was being carted off the field. Peters wanted to make sure his replacement would help the team win. Other players see that and it means something.
The Eagles won games because of how talented they were and how well they played. It also helped that they were so close and had such great chemistry.
The Eagles will need strong leadership and good chemistry if the team is going to contend for another title this year - and more in the future. History is filled with teams that had one great year. Sustaining that success is a whole other challenge.
Fortunately, the Eagles have a unique group of players with an exceptional coach. Without being too trite, this feels as much like a family as a team. That kind of togetherness means the future is wide open for the defending Super Bowl Champions.